Lost in translation

Deepa Gahlot
Friday, 29 March 2019

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story
Language: Hindi
Director: Aneesh Daniel
Starring: Sharman Joshi, Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigby, Prakash Belawadi and others
Showing at: Cinepolis, CityPride, E-Square Carnival, Inox and PVR
Rating: **

The murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in 1999, by a group of right wing goons, had shaken the conscience of the country, and revealed the tip of Hindu militancy that is rearing its ugly head with increasing regularity now.

To remind an audience of the horrors of fundamentalism alone, revisiting the two decade old incident is worth the effort. Aneesh Danei’s film, however, goes off on another tangent, and is seen through the eyes of a foolish journalist, Manav Banerjee (Sharman Joshi).

Manav moves to an Odisha town with his pregnant wife (Aditi Chengappa) and hopes to land a job at the newspaper edited by Kedar Mishra (Prakash Belawadi), if he can come up with the story he is assigned to chase. Mishra wants proof that Staines and his team are illegally converting tribals to Christianity by paying them.

Manav sees that Staines and his wife Gladys (Shari Rigby) work selflessly for leprosy patients, and despite all his clumsy attempts at snooping, he cannot find proof that there is either coercion or bribery involved in conversions.

Mahendra (Manoj Mishra) is the troublemaker, who uses Mishra’s hate, and twists Manav’s words to carry out the horrible killing of innocents. The film seems to suggest that it was Manav’s ignorance and eagerness for sensationalism that led to the heinous murders, and not the sustained misinformation against the work of missionaries by vested interests.

Mishra is shown to have a hidden agenda (which turns out to be a bit far-fetched), while Manav is portrayed as an idiot, who blames ‘karma’ for the plight of leprosy patients and screams when he is in the proximity of one, as if he were a dangerous beast.

The Least Of These should have been a tribute to Staines and his courageous wife, who had it in her to forgive the men who were heartless enough to burn alive small children; it should have been moving and terrifying, but its superficiality destroys any noble intentions it might have had.

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